A surprisingly important part of the Nepal relief effort operates right here in Huntsville

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – In a modest office in the NSSTC building in Huntsville, NASA’s SERVIR program transmits satellite images around the world, in this case, to the Himalayas.  Their efforts include Nepal.

Eric Anderson heads up the NASA team for the Himalayas. He explains, “They’re monitoring things like vegetation health to look at potential agricultural drought. They’re monitoring the height of rivers throughout the different watersheds in the region to monitor and forecast floods.”

When a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, the scientists on the ground there went to work with whatever satellite data they could get their hands on.

“Teams of 40 to 50 people working shifts, combing through these images to identify damaged buildings, damaged roads, any signs of villages that have been affected by the earthquake,” said Anderson.

As you can imagine, the destruction made electricity scarce and internet even more so.  But getting these images in hand became a matter of life and death.

“The satellite images are providing in some cases some of the only views of these remote areas,” said Anderson.

So the team in Huntsville takes the hi-resolution images  — provided for free by satellite companies to aid with disaster relief — and breaks them down into smaller digestible parts, easier to transmit to the devastated Nepal.

If Huntsville can get the images through to the people on the ground, those scientists can analyze them with a local’s expertise.

“Combing through street by street or grid by grid to try to identify signs of roads that are out,” Anderson explained.  “If a road is damaged in a rural area or remote area, it means that there are people that possibly can’t get food, water, supplies.”

Piece by piece by piece, NASA employees help put the puzzle together.

“These red squares show us the most recent three or four days of satellite acquisitions over Nepal. We’re trying to fill all of this in,” Anderson says, describing a map on his screen.

They must fill it in and get the mapping done quickly.  They’ve only got a month left before the monsoon season comes.  That means more flooding, more danger, and more cloud cover — which make satellite images almost impossible to obtain.

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